In which I reply to a reply from a politician

Recently I added my name to the increasingly long list of Australians petitioning our allegedly left-wing (ha!) government to stop being such a bunch of backward conservative-courting tools regarding marriage equality (seriously, is it too much to ask our atheist lady PM to frigging well man up and stand up to entrenched homophobia backed in large part by religious conservative inertia?).

The Labor Senator for Victoria, Gavin Marshall, sent back a nice & informative form response (can’t blame him for that, considering the amount of mail that must be in various MPs’ inboxes on this issue) indicating that he’ll be pushing for marriage equality at the next Labor National Conference. Good for him! He also said I should contact him with any other federal concerns I might have.

So I did.

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Dear Gavin

Thank you for the response. I am heartened to hear you’ll be advocating for marriage equality at the next National Conference; I hope my local member will doing likewise. Part of me is frankly bewildered that we even have to have this discussion in 2011; another part isn’t surprised at all, considering the far-reaching Howard legacy and the current eagerness to court conservative votes.

Speaking of which I have another concern relating to the schools chaplaincy/religious instruction programs and the current role in same occupied by an openly evangelistic organisation, Access Ministries. I’m sure you’re aware of the current press climate regarding this issue. I’m equally sure I don’t need to remind you of the importance of separating church and state; suffice it to say that a government remaining neutral on religious matters is the best possible outcome for governments, believers and the non-religious alike.

It is disturbing that Access, whose declared mission is to convert people to their sectarian faith, is given state funding and open access to what amounts to a captive audience of impressionable young minds. With private religious schools, churches and other private venues in which to further faith in no short supply, I fail to see the appropriateness of expending not inconsiderate amounts of public funds to essentially represent one faith to school children at the expense of all others.

If counselors of any kind are to be part of a school’s complement of staff (and I believe they should be), let them be accredited by relevant state bodies & properly trained in the specific area of adolescent counseling. If religion is to be taught, let it be taught as, for example, an elective or an objective study of the history & philosophy of a range of faiths. Certainly don’t let one sectarian version take priority; this could easily be seen as a state abrogating its responsibilities to all citizens regardless of their faith.

On a personal note: as state students in South Australia between 1981-93, we were regularly presented with Religious Instruction classes & Religious Education “seminars” which were in reality thinly-veiled attempts at conversion & indoctrination. At the time it baffled me that our high school, effectively a branch of our government, was more or less allowing the local church to do this in the guise of education. It baffles me that our duly-elected governments would still, in 2011, allow more or less the same things to happen with their blessings and our money.

In a country such as ours, people should of course be free to follow and teach the faith they choose, but to use state funds to enable easy access to young people by avowed sectarian evangelists is inappropriate in the extreme. In addition to the misuse of public funds and effective collaboration of the state and one particular church, it could quite easily present a confusing & contradictory message to children who are being raised in a different sect, different faith or in no faith at all.

Yours sincerely
Etc.

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